Big data is not a new concept, but the perception of how it’s used by businesses around the world is constantly shifting. The concept first came about in the 1990s, as the internet became a reality for households across the globe. It was the first time that companies had direct access to customer information without having to ask for it.
The term big data refers to the collecting, storing, and analyzing of large quantities of data, allowing marketers to make informed decisions around their digital marketing campaigns. This has been the way that marketers have always worked – getting as much information about the customer as possible to tailor the brand message to them specifically. The change is that the internet opened the doors to a much wider and more detailed range of information.
The Impact Of Privacy Laws
The Economist was the first to put the idea of online privacy to the public in an article published on their website in 1998. The article discussed the idea of the website owners selling your information to a marketer – analytics from the website could show your location, when you accessed the article, how long you spent reading, and how you reached the website. If you had a profile on the Economist’s website, they could potentially sell that information too.
This article created the debate over how much information about individuals is available online and what the privacy risks related to that really were. Although the debate has raged for decades, people have continued to share personal information on the world wide web at an ever-increasing rate. In 2021, we put private photos up on public platforms, check-in to places on social media, and wear devices that track our movements via GPS.
In the last decade, countries and unions around the world have made a concerted effort to change how brands can access this information, as well as what they can do with it. In the European Union, you have the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in the USA, California has its own Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in place.
These Acts all generally cover the same concern – businesses and other organizations have to tell the consumer what data they collect, what they store, why they store it and how you can get hold of the group to get your data corrected or deleted. While this is a major step forward, the general public still held the opinion that those who collect big data are not trustworthy.
The COVID-19 Change
The issue with big data is that it has almost always been seen by the public as something to mistrust. It was collected quietly, in the background, and without us knowing. What brands did with it and how they got access to it, we didn’t know.
Since the global pandemic hit, things have changed quite significantly in so many facets of our lives – including how we feel about the gathering and sharing of big data. Governments and medical organizations started publicly using big data to predict the movement of the coronavirus, the impact this would have on hospitals, and how people were coping with what was happening
Google publicly opened the doors to all of the COVID-19-related data they had collected, allowing anyone to access it. Those who worked in big data analysis were also sharing their processes and algorithms for trawling through the information and coming up with relevant conclusions to help predict the spread of the virus. For the first time, the public could see how big data is put to use, and that its application could be a force for good.
How Brands Can Maintain This Shift In Thinking
Of course, the impact of the pandemic will probably be with us for a long time. However, things will eventually shift back to something akin to the normal we knew before COVID-19 swept across the globe. The question is, will people stay open-minded about the use of big data by brands or will they go back to the way they felt before?
We are currently in a time of crisis – some have even likened it to being at war – and that means the rules are different. People generally accept that a crisis like this will mean more restrictions and oversight by the government. But what will happen when we are no longer in crisis mode? And what can brands do to keep the positive sentiment?
Improve communication with the public
The shift in the perception around big data mining came from the doors opening and the public being able to see how big data can impact their lives in a positive way.
Help to standardize data practices
Creating a universally agreed-upon framework for how big data is collected, stored, and used will go a long way to engendering public trust. The foundation for this framework should be a focus on individual rights to privacy and how anonymized data can do good in the world.
Use data for more than just marketing
The idea that brands are using personal information to help market themselves better only is what gives big data a bad reputation. People have seen, through the pandemic, that big data can be used as a force for good.
If brands can include the analysis of the information into their ESG commitments, they can engender trust with the public. It’s important to show that the use of big data is not just about personal gain for the company, but rather about giving back as well.
In a way, COVID-19 has done big data a favor. It has balanced the scales somewhat and provided a clearer idea of its application. In a post-COVID-19 world, marketers are going to have to ensure that they don’t undo the positives. This may mean applying the information gathered in new and innovative ways.